Cairo’s Garden City – a tale of decay and perseverance

Cairo, throughout the first half of the 20th century, was one of the world’s capitals of culture – the indisputable primary city in the Arab world, with strong and growing European influences adding a unique character to the Egyptian capital.

Wealthy travellers from across the world flocked to the city, not only for the Pyramids in Giza and the exotic, colourful bazaars in its Old Town, but also for its stylish Haussmann-style Downtown and its glamorous cafe culture.

It was also during this period that Cairo received its Harrods-style department store Omar Effendi and some of Africa’s best hotels like the Heliopolis.

As efforts to Europeanise Cairo at that time intensified, Garden City, a planned neighbourhood with tree-lined avenues and Italian style buildings, was founded. Located next to the famous Tahrir Square, Garden City, whilst still stylish to these days, exudes the air of rustic grandeur – a witness of Cairo’s enduring story of growth, decay and perseverance.

Over the years, some of the neighbourhood’s grand buildings fell into disrepair – many of its original inhabitants of the Greek and European heritage fled the country in the 1950s during President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s reign. The exodus left some of the villas in the area unoccupied. While the attractive address attracted wealthy Egyptians to move in to fill the void, some of the area’s most palatial mansions are still left in various stages of ruins to these days.

I strolled around the area in October 2015, and took some photos that I feel best encapsulate the area best. It is still a beautiful neighbourhood, and an oasis of calm in the middle of the maddening frenzy that Cairo is. It’s impressive how they managed to keep the area’s calm character intact, while the rest of Cairo became engulfed in blocks and blocks of tall apartment buildings and miles and miles of gridlocked streets.

Take a look here:

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Speak soon,
FH

60 Minutes in Old KL

Kuala Lumpur has got to be one of the most dynamic cities in Asia today. It is fast-paced, and with flurries of construction activities spread across its large urban expanse, exudes the appearance of a boom town preparing itself for the future. Malaysia has been experiencing rapid economic growth since 1980s (albeit at a slightly muted pace lately) and KL is the showcase city chronicling this phenomenal shift of the nation’s fortune. The rise of western-style consumerism has turned much of the city into a sprawling, featureless metropolis of hundreds of banal malls, gridlocked cloverleaf intersections, posh condominium blocks (with a lot of empty units, however), and many, many Starbucks, KFCs & McDonald’s outlets.

Pockets of Malaysia’s pre-boom past still exist, however, awkwardly amidst the city’s sea of skyscrapers. The old quarter of KL, the epicentre of which sits at the confluence of the Klang & Gombak river, is only 4 LRT stations’ away from KL’s modern, bordering on featureless downtown of huge malls & cookie cutter office blocks. While various efforts have been made to rejuvenate this much-blighted area of town, you may still witness the rustic elegance of near crumbling Chinese style shophouses interspersed with old temples and open air markets here.

Crumbling shoplot, Old KL
Crumbling shoplot, Old KL

Lebuh Pasar used to be the central business district of KL. The area is characterised by its grand shophouses & office buildings, some of them ornate, with neoclassical columns & accents. Many of these buildings were already crumbling until the recent effort of rejuvenation turned the square into a pleasant public space, with neat benches and fountains. The buildings surrounding the square have been repainted in some vibrant colours.

Shoplots facing Lebuh Pasar, a pedestrianised public square
Shoplots facing Lebuh Pasar, a pedestrianised public square
A Moorish inspired structure, KL
A Moorish inspired structure, KL

The area surrounding Lebuh Pasar is fairly pedestrian-friendly, but expect creaky pavements & broken traffic lights. There appears to be a large presence of Bangladeshi migrant workers who live and work in the area. Many of the local shops have Bengali, instead of Tamil, signboards/advertisements alongside English & Malay, a reflection of Malaysia’s constantly evolving demographics.

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An Indian flower shop, Old KL
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Lorong Bandar 1, KL

More random shots taken using my humble iPhone 5S camera:

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Street art carrying a rather sanitised message of patriotism, Old KL

Of course, every stroll in old KL has to end with some delicious food, and this time around I chowed down an amazing Chettinad meal at Betel Leaf, Lebuh Ampang.

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It was a great meal, I’ll probably talk more about the restaurant later.

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Exploring our own turfs can be an exciting experience; it opens our eyes to beautiful things that we might have overlooked all along. Next time, if you have the time, grab your backpack, bring a bottle of water, get on the LRT and stop at the Masjid Jamek/Pasar Seni station. You’ll find youself in a colourful part of town, pretty rugged & unpolished at that, but refreshingly vibrant & authentic.

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Speak soon,

Faizal Hamssin